Why do you attend CWRU?

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

I had the privilege of hearing Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor speak in Thwing on Friday, Oct. 11. Her talk, hosted by the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, was as inspirational as it was original. O’Connor, who is tremendously down-to-earth, spoke of the importance of taking one’s time in school, relishing each moment and abolishing an inflexible plan for one’s future.

Her words were addressed to the undergraduate student, tracing the trajectory of her law career and highlighting how she had little control in where she is today. She urged students not to plan their futures, but to plan for their futures. Her message was simple; college and life are about the journey, not the destination.

Her talk led to a long Friday evening of introspection and self-evaluation of my own college experience, leading me to ask myself some questions: Who am I, what am I doing with my life and why am I here? The evening culminated in a great discussion with a friend outside the Village Starbucks as we watched athletes return from an away game, lonely scholars who just left Kelvin Smith Library and the slightly inebriated— to deeply intoxicated— make their way about the campus.

So why are you here? Why are you at Case Western Reserve University? My column is titled “the meaning of Spartan life,” so why not ask the big question? Why are you in college?

I’m willing to bet that most students that call CWRU home do so because of its name and the promising fiscal implications of that name. Maybe your financial package was too hard to turn down? Maybe your parents are paying your tuition and directed you here? Maybe you didn’t get into any of the four Ivy League schools you applied to? Whether our first choice or a backup to a more selective school, at the core, we came to CWRU because we think we will be better off monetarily in the future.

But why are you in college? Why undertake the absurd task of getting an undergraduate degree? I challenge you to look inside and ask yourself, “Why am I here?” You might be surprised at what you find.

The fact of the matter is that we are all here because we are victims of interpellation. By interpellation I mean something given to us that we think we freely chose. A college education is a perfect example.

I wonder how many CWRU students really had an option to attend college. From a young age, we’ve been told that college is a normal and expected thing for us to do. Eventually we take it for granted and lose sight of the big-picture goal and purpose of an undergraduate education.

So I posit the following what-if scenario. If minimum wage was all you were going to make upon graduation, would you stay at CWRU if it were free; that is, if you were given full tuition, room and board, the same amenities afforded to you now and even a modest living stipend? Would you stay to learn for learning’s sake, regardless of how lucrative your future would be?

CWRU students’ eyes lack the twinkle of wonder characteristic of a curious intellectual. Without the loose promise of a well-paying job, I feel the majority of students would leave our school here in Cleveland. I truly hope I am wrong, but observation can be a depressing teacher.

Some of the things I hear students utter are disgusting and deplorable. Is an economy class plane ticket to Miami for spring break really a reason to hate your parents, the people paying for it and the hotel room? Is a scratched lens of a pair of designer sunglasses really a cause for histrionics and carrying on? Is a “B” on an exam a plausible reason to curse the professor and treat others with childish scorn?

Society has made its abominable entrance into academia, effectively intoxicating us with materialism, drowning the most essential values of camaraderie, humility and selflessness in a bottle of disillusion and greed.

Socrates is attributed with saying, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Think about that statement and let it satiate your soul because it is indispensable.

Gluttony, egotism, avarice and pride have no place in the life of a student. What has a place is passion for a life committed to learning and the lessons of great thinkers not unlike Socrates. The etymological definition of “philosophy” is “lover of wisdom.” Therefore I charge you to be modern day philosophers that rebel against a society numbed by ignorance. Abandon reservation and expectation and embark on a quest for wisdom without regard for where you will end up.

So I ask you again, why are you here? Obviously, I feel too many are here for completely the wrong reasons, so prove me wrong. Answer my question with an enthusiastic admonishment of all I’ve written. Rage against cheerless conformity and the strangulating hold of society. Be a true scholar captivated with knowledge.

Until we start being a community of philosophers at CWRU, I will vociferate O’Connor’s message to seize opportunities as they present themselves and to live free from the blinders of rigidity. Prepare for your future by being the best undergraduate you can be.

E. E. Cummings once wrote in a poem, “May my mind stroll about hungry and fearless and thirsty and supple.” We need to adopt these words as a way of life if we are to be successful intellectuals. Be a lover of wisdom and immerse yourself in all that CWRU has to offer. The past is a memory and the future is uncertain, so live a life of imagination within the moments of right now.

Jacob Martin wishes everyone an enjoyable and restful fall break.